By Nicole Veenstra
In an age when the average length of a movie seems to continually increase, Elza is an 82-minute-long breath of fresh air.
Written and directed by Mariette Monpierre, the award-winning French film is the deeply emotional and personal story of Monpierre’s cross-continental trek to connect with the father she never knew. In celebration of Black History Month, Rider is screening the moving film in Sweigart Auditorium on Feb. 19 at 7 p.m.
The story starts out in an apartment in Paris owned by Elza (Stana Roumillac). Elza is a strong and independent young woman with dreams of meeting her father that she’s determined to fulfill.
After receiving a monetary graduation gift from her mother, portrayed by Monpierre, Elza says “au revoir” to her comfortable life in Paris and travels to the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe in order to find her father. The land is unfamiliar, but small in size, helping Elza to locate him quickly. Over the next few days, she relentlessly gathers information about his life, eventually ending up at his front gate. Fate intervenes when his wife mistakes Elza for her granddaughter’s babysitter and from then on, nothing in her life is the same.
While some elements of the storyline are fabricated to add to the suspense of the movie, other scenes seem to allude to how Monpierre wishes her own trip as a young woman played out.
Although Elza is Monpierre’s debut feature-length film — and the first narrative film by a female director from Guadeloupe — nothing seems forced. Small talk is essentially nonexistent, allowing the country’s rich culture and striking scenery to shine through. Monpierre credits her ease behind the camera to her background in commercial production.
“I feel I have an advantage, coming from the world of commercials because I am able to tell a story in 30 seconds,” Monpierre said. “Elza is very visual and has a rhythm to it. There is no unnecessary action or dialogue. Everything moves the story along. I get to the point while keeping the viewers’ attention.”
The initial idea for the film came after Monpierre realized how many people were dealing with similar family situations. Ignoring the less-than-perfect ending of her own story — after growing up in a society plagued by internalized racism, her father denied her because he refused to believe someone with such “kinky hair” could be his offspring — Monpierre recognized the opportunity to inspire those who are nervous about contacting unknown family members.
“I hope this movie is going to touch the lives of some people,” Monpierre said. “I want to encourage those in the same situation to reach out because beautiful things could happen.”
Monpierre used adjectives such as uplifting, beautiful and sexy to describe her film. Rather than flaunt its success, however, she is quite critical of the final outcome and promises the best is yet to come. But with such a strong debut, — Elza has won more than 10 awards at film festivals — it’s hard not to have high expectations.
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Published in the 2/15/13 edition.